Even a shaky Charlotte Hornets performance game served the Boston Celtics attributes they’ve dreamed of emulating this year. As Jayson Tatum closed the game 1-for-5 with a turnover and getting blocked twice, after the offense fizzled and settled for brick after brick from deep, Boston found a flurry of shots late that put them back within five points.
Terry Rozier, who shot 6-for-11 from deep and scored 28 points in his first revenge game, tossed the ball back-and-forth with LaMelo Ball and set up a wide open three for Ball needing a basket with 2:12 remaining. Rozier hit two more of his own to slam the door on a 111-102 Hornets win over the Celtics, Ball and Rozier both sharing 10-assist nights. They knew where to find their teammates. Boston drove-and-kicked well, but into the same results they’ve found all year on those plays.
The Hornets raced up the floor, followed their misses and created rhythm opportunities for their precise shooters. The Celtics, still among the worst from deep, prayed that long bombs would save them facing several double-digit deficits in the second half. They shot 30.4% from deep and took 46 of their 90 attempts from behind the line. And it all could’ve been worse.
Ime Udoka talked throughout the first half about the Celtics forgetting how they play when they’re at their best, an assessment emblematic in how they closed the first half. After succeeding passing into Josh Richardson, Jayson Tatum and Romeo Langford cutting inside through Al Horford, they spotted up from deep again, and again, and again facing a Hornets run.
As Boston sunk to 1-for-9 to close the second quarter and 2-for-11 from the field, the Hornets only responded with 13 points of their own. A 56-48 halftime deficit could’ve been much worse.
Udoka had called timeout following an 8-0 push by Charlotte’s Jaden McDaniels and Terry Rozier, Boston going small with Grant Williams at center after a slow Enes Freedom start and getting carved up inside. Schröder and Brown had just missed threes and Richardson forced a contested two at the foul line.
The break in the action didn’t set up the Celtics any smoother into their offense after an active start. Grant Williams and Tatum misplayed a handoff, Tatum eventually took a fadeaway and Miles Bridges followed Rozier’s three-point miss the other way. Schröder salvaged some offense with a pull-up three. Tatum made a nice swing pass to Grant in the corner, which he missed, before Schröder stole Bridges’ outlet pass at midcourt and Tatum immediately launched another three-point miss in the right corner.
Schröder. Richardson. The launching continued. Bridges launched past Williams and handed him his fourth foul on an and-one finish. Langford sent Bridges and Rozier out in transition with a bad pass that put Boston down 10 shortly before halftime.
The shooting lull continued, 1-for-13 into the third quarter before a pair of makes by Schröder and Horford. The Celtics fell behind by 14 on back-to-back-to-back makes by Rozier, as Williams’ foul trouble forced a Horford-Freedom double big unit into action.
The night didn’t start much prettier, Tatum turning around a screen past Mason Plumlee and tossing a sharp pass to Richardson in the corner, who wasn’t in the game. Horford threw away an entry pass to Hayward, making his first return to TD Garden since March, 2020, before stealing the ball from Brown on the next possession.
A cold shooting and modest Ball start kept the Celtics in the game, despite only scoring 27 points. Schröder found Tatum going downhill, Richardson cut, caught a pass and funneled the ball to Langford in the corner for a driving make.
Langford found Richardson for three into the second quarter, hit a three of his own in the right corner and hit two shots at the basket in a helpful bounce off the bench. He also caught a pass cutting into traffic at the basket, where he found Payton Pritchard, who missed an open three.
After Horford found Tatum for a driving finish from the left corner, the offense fell apart. McDaniels blocked a Richardson dunk attempt on the break and Tatum picked up his third foul on an offensive call. He stood on the baseline for the entire sequence that followed, waiting for official Curtis Blair to return during a Boston offensive set to share some words and complaining to Schröder to his left. Ben Sullivan appeared to calm him down into a timeout midway through the quarter, but Tatum spent part of it chatting with Blair.
Meanwhile McDaniels, Rozier and Ball hit consecutive threes to dig Charlotte out of its shooting slump, the Celtics staying ahead 43-41 on Brown and Langford’s triples. A turn toward small ball 30 seconds later sent the defense stumbling, before that late stagnancy on offense sent Boston into half down eight.
A tough turnaround by Brown and drive-and-kick to Grant for three spurred a second-half Celtics comeback attempt. He raced back in transition to swat away a Hornets outlet attempt, but the ball bounced back to Rozier, who found P.J. Washington for the alley-oop and 12-point lead into the fourth.
There, a 6-0 burst from Langford’s up-fake and one finish at the hoop and Richardson’s three cut the lead in half through an 0-for-4 Hornets start. Freedom’s post finish through a foul made it five, then Langford split a pair of free throws to get it to four.
Ball and Bridges had answers through, a three from the point guard and pair of baskets inside from the power forward made it seven. Then Oubre buried another three to get back up 10. Bridges poured in a reverse layup and alley-oop slam from Rozier, pounding chests up 11 as Brown and Tatum pushed the ball the other way for an easy dunk.
Brown assisted Horford in the corner for three, then Ball hit his open look from Rozier, and Rozier sent his old team packing from the left corner. Schröder’s back-to-back threes with the clock ticking away only momentary hope, and a few extra points on dreadful shooting night.
The Celtics face the Trail Blazers at home at 7:30 EST on Friday.